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Date: 26 Sep 2012 03:04:43
Title: The Yasawa Islands, Fiji

Lat 17:19.44S
Lon 177:07.92E

Time flies when you're having fun! I can't believe Mum has been here for a whole week already! The Yasawa's have been a great exploring ground, but our week here has been marred a little by some bad weather, storms at night (sleepless!) and some petty theft! This is a rather long blog so we must have been busy! These islands are beautiful, and tourism is only here in measured amounts - a backpacker place here and there, and very few upscale resorts, actually we haven't seen any. Compared to the touristy Mamanuca's they are paradise. We have no desire to be on a tiny island full of boozy twenty-somethings. I must be getting older (but wiser :-) )

Mum on the beach at Sawa-i-Lau, watching Archie kiting

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We left Nananu-i-Ra and had a pretty good sail over to Sawa-i-Lau in the middle of the Yasawa chain. It was 50 miles and despite a dodgy wind forecast we only had to motor a couple of hours before the wind filled in again. Mum was fine and there were no signs of sea-sickness! Pulling into Sawa-i-Lau, who should we see in the anchorage but Slick and Obelisk, who had changed their plans and got to the Yasawa's the same day as us! There are some underwater caves here which was the main attraction of coming here, but it was also a very pretty bay and if the wind had picked up Archie would have got in another kiting session.

Sawa-i-Lau, with underwater caves in it's depths!

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Dinghy expedition into the lagoon at Sawa-i-Lau (cool rock formations)

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Enjoying the late afternoon sun

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Mystic anchored at Sawa-i-Lau (Slick in the background)

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The next morning we dinghied over to the caves. Before we arrived into the bay we were wondering how we would find the entrance, however the yellow handrails and fleet of villagers hawking their sula's (sarongs) and other tourist titbits showed us the way! We had to pay $10 each to enter, and at the same time as we were there a couple of backpacker tour groups arrived as well. We also bumped into the Belgian family on Laissez Faire that we met in Palmerston and Niue. It's a small world after all! The caves were cool, less graffiti than Tonga but not up to Niue standards of awesomeness! Archie and Jesse fought it out for the man prize over who could climb the highest and lauch themselves off the most dangerous piece of rock. Jesse was clearly trying to impress the female backpackers who were watching. I'm not sure what Archie's excuse was...

Mum at the entrance to the caves

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After visiting the caves, we pulled up the hook and headed south, to the 'Blue Lagoon' anchorage, with Slick and Obelisk. They filmed the film here, hence the name. It is supposedly the most sheltered anchorage in the Yasawas, surrounded on all sides by islands. There was a beautiful long white beach, tarnished only by a sign that said if a cruise ship was anchored in the bay, you could not walk along the beach. Lucky for us there was no cruise ship that night. We had a drink in the resort there, which is fairly upmarket, but despite ordering $18 mojito's, there was a whole list of rules that yachties had to comply to - "Visitors may sit in the wooden seating in front of the bar but not on the sofa's in the lounge area"!! Clearly they knew what unwashed, unkempt people we were!

The Blue Lagoon anchorage from the top of Tavewa hill

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The next day we took the dinghy over to the south of Nacula for some snorkelling which was fairly average, and then over to a tiny bay on Tavewa where we anchored the dinghy and walked up the hill for a view of the bay which was stunning, despite the clouds around. We ate in the restaurant of the resort that night, which was quite good despite being relegated to a table on the edge of the restaurant rather than actually inside it as we were off a yacht and not staying there. We went to bed with bellies full of chicken, fish and banoffee pie.

About 4am a big southerly came through, completely un-forecast. In fact the forecast had said there would be no wind all week! There were about 8 boats in the anchorage and as a torrential rain storm battered down, with the wind swinging the boats 180 degrees, at least 5 of them had someone on deck checking the anchor at 4am in the pouring rain. One boat that had anchored too close to shore had to up anchor and just stand by until there was enough light for them to anchor again. Luckily we were fine, although we didn't get much sleep for a couple of hours until the storm had died down.

In the morning we headed south again, despite the clouds. Navigation in the Yasawa's has to be done largely by sight, as most of the area has never been charted properly. Our charts resemble what you would see in with a satellite view in Google maps! Thus it's better to move around when the sun is high in the sky, highlighting any reefs or shallow patches. We have a cruising guidebook but it's from 1985! To our reasonably trained eyes though, the routes haven't presented any real issues. I think the Tuamotu's were good training. We anchored in Manta Ray Bay (not it's official name but basically at the south end of Naviti island) where you can snorkel with manta's if you're lucky. We weren't lucky that afternoon but the reef was great and stacked with huge numbers of fish. Unfortunately my mask and snorkel were nowhere to be seen, and I think somebody with light fingers must have pinched them from the dinghy while we were eating at the resort the night before. Such a pain as I can't get another set until we get back to the mainland, so I am having to borrow the 1980's mask that Mum found in the cupboard at home! This is the first time we've experienced theft on the whole trip.

En-route to Naviti's south coast (Suse - note Archie enjoying round 2 of boat banana bread - it's going down a treat!)

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We settled in for the night - again no wind was forecast and what there was was from the NE so it was fine when we anchored. However, again, in the middle of the night, the wind built and swung around to the south and we were completely exposed. The swell rolled into our south facing bay, and like amateurs, we spent at least 4-5 hours awake, constantly checking our position on the ipad and out the window against the gin palace (large chartered motor cruiser) that we were sharing the bay with. Again our anchor was sound and luckily we had no problems except for lack of sleep. In the morning we tried to find the manta's again but to no avail.

We continued south to beautiful Waya island. This is the most striking of all the islands in Fiji. Huge volcanic plugs emerge from the top of it's hills, reminding us very much of the Marquesas in French Polynesia. On the west end of the island, a couple of huge rock faces tower over a bay, where we anchored for lunch, and then Archie and I went diving on a nearby reef. We were hoping to see some big creatures but we didn't (quite glad as Fiji has some rather large Tiger sharks which would have been pretty scary!).

A stunning anchorage for lunch on the west coast of Waya

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Diving in my retro mask! Mum must have found it in the dressing up box at home!

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We moved around into Nalobi bay at the south end of Waya for the night, and anchored off the sand bar that connects Waya to Wayasewa at low tide. Although not protected from an easterly wind, there is no swell and Archie had fun kiting off the sandbar this afternoon! The wind was calm and finally we got a good 10 hour sleep! In the morning the sun was finally back, and we visited the village of Namara that we are anchored off. As soon as we landed on the beach we were approached by a guy called Simon who wanted us to lend him a socket set to fix his outboard engine. Of course we obliged - getting tools out here must be tricky and I dare say they are reliant on yachties for help with things like this! They kindly brought over 3 crayfish later as a thank you, which were delicious! Another guy called John showed us around the village and down to the school, where kids from other villages board during the week as well as the local village kids. We met one of the teachers who allowed us briefly into his classroom. Everyone was very friendly despite the fact that we were disrupting their classes! The kids all peered out the windows at us with shouts of Pelangi! Pelangi! (Foreigner!) It felt a bit like "Stranger! Danger!" but they had smiles on their faces and were waving at us. A group of women drinking tea and eating roti were very keen to introduce themselves and they gave us some coconut roti for a second breakfast.

Namara villagers

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Looking north towards stunning Nalobi bay from the beach at Namara. Mystic anchored on the left above the white boat.

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After Namara, we dinghied up to the village at the head of the bay - Yalobi. Our guidebook said we could walk across the island to the northern villages, and take in some awesome views from the hills on the way. When we landed the dinghy on the beach though, an elderly looking chap told us that the paths were overgrown, hadn't been used in years, and we would need several hours and a machete. He could however act as a guide and take us to a view point where we could see the whole bay. He was convincing enough that we decided against our planned hike and followed him along the beach and up the hill for some incredible views - firstly over the east coast looking towards Viti Levu (the mainland) and then to a rock on the hillside that looked out over the whole bay. It was fantastic. Tui, our guide told us all about himself - a retired goat herder, who had grown up on the island, moved to the mainland so that his children could attend secondary school, and then moved back here when he retired while his wife still worked on Viti Levu teaching English to the Japanese! He was 64 but looked 70. After the walk, he showed us through the village and invited us to his house for tea. He is going to put the money we paid him towards a new set of false teeth! It was a lovely experience.

View from the rock over Nalobi bay, with our guide, Tui.

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Nalobi school kids - lunch break

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Nalobi beach

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Waya has definitely been a highight of our stay in Fiji. It's a really beautiful island and the people have all been so friendly. Last night was another sleepless night, as a big NE wind came in and there was an amazing lightning show. It was as if a kid was flicking the lights on and off every second for about 4 hours! Then at 4am, the wind swung 180 degrees AGAIN! It died down but now we are exposed to swell so we are rolling around. We've never had so many bad anchorages and sleepless nights as in the Yasawas. Some of it has been our fault for choosing badly, but the unforecasted storms at night are quite bizarre.

This morning we are heading down to Treasure Island in the Mamanuca islands for one night, before leaving the boat at Vuda Point marina and spending two nights in luxury at the First Landing Resort, courtesy of Mum!

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